Thandi Williams may be one of the newest rural islanders to catch the RIEP member spirit— she arrived on Pender Island in 2020 — but she already talks like a seasoned veteran.
“I believe in sharing expertise. And I believe in community, which can be as big as you want it to be. But there are limited resources on these islands, and quite frankly we just don't have the horsepower that big cities have. So here, it really has to be cultivation and adoption of a community mindset—‘many hands make light work’.
Thandi’s knowledge of what it takes to cultivate and sustain the community mindset also stems from her involvement with the Pender Island business community. It began with her almost simultaneous — and some would say surprise—purchase of retail store Islnd Grl Collective (“I was supposed to be getting groceries and I bought this store!”), and continued when she got to know some of the folks with the Pender Island Chamber of Commerce.
“It was just immediate,” Thandi says, recalling the invitation to join the Board. “Melody Pender, the super power, was looking for people and she approached me. I said, ‘Sure, no problem - I can be a Board member’. I went to the meeting, and she had already pre-arranged to nominate me for President. That's how it all happened!”
Perhaps Thandi’s business acumen shone through, but perhaps it was something else. Born and raised in Toronto, Thandi spent every summer of her childhood on her grandparents' farm in Jamaica. “I think that's where the down-homey love for the land came from and was cultivated. When I was in the military, I started discovering BC’s small islands. There's something so quaint and charming about them, it reminded me of my childhood.”
“Pender in particular suits me—I jokingly call it the island of misfits. You can be whoever you want to be on Pender, and people just accept you as you are. I felt a strong pull towards it. I like who I am there. I like the people in the grocery store who chat with you. Everyone isn't in such a rush. The quiet, cozy community there is really warming.”
Through her work with the Pender Chamber, as well as the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre, Thandi was introduced to RIEP and attended a virtual Connection Cafe in 2022.
“It was an ‘aha’ moment for me—I found that so many people on the call were so invested, and really believed in the lifestyle and preserving it, but also recognising that there was a need to grow at a measured rate. I really believed in this 30,000 foot view, because my hunch was that most of the islands were experiencing similar things and had similar desires.”
“This was confirmed when I went to the in-person Forum on Gabriola. I saw businesses and ideas that could directly be transferred, like a template—just pick it up and move it into a new community. I believe in working smarter and not harder!”
Just as Thandi can draw a straight line between her childhood experiences in Jamaica and her becoming part of the Pender Island community, there’s a striking similarity between the speed of her involvement with her local Chamber of Commerce, and her current role as one of the newest members of the RIEP Board of Directors. Whether it’s true or not, she’s too polite to say if she was pressured to join either organization. But it’s abundantly clear that she’s too smart, too passionate, and too energetic to let such opportunities pass her by.
Especially when there’s much to be done in order to protect and support these special island communities. “Whether it's our governments, our policy-makers, our funders, we're going to be stronger together,” Thandi says. “There needs to be a mechanism to share those ideas, a central voice, because the numbers on their own are not enough.”
“As far as I can tell, RIEP is the only organization doing it on that scale.”